I learned from Judge-Executive John Wilson yesterday about Garrard County’s rising cost of housing its prisoners. This past month it cost about $43,000 instead of the budgeted $33,000. Garrard doesn’t have it’s own jail — which apparently actually saves the county money currently — but it does now house prisoners in Lincoln and Casey counties.
When I was in college I worked on several video productions for the editorial division of the Lexington Herald-Leader, including one about the increasing numbers of Kentuckians being locked away in jail. At the time of the video, 1 in every 100 Kentuckians was in jail.
In 2008, the U.S. as a whole reached the 1 in 100 mark as well. That same year, the number of Kentucky’s inmates went up 600 percent while the crime rate rose just 3 percent. (Taken from this Daily Mail article)
Kentucky’s prison situation — and other states are in the same boat — appears to be dire. There are simply too many prisoners to fit in the jails, and building bigger jails is generally a huge financial problem, as it is in Garrard. John Wilson mentioned to me that he thinks the penal code needs to be revised and updated.
There are people attempting to find solutions. For my Herald-Leader video, we interviewed a social worker in a new program that was aiming to keep minor drug offenders out of jail and rehabilitate them so they didn’t wind up getting arrested again. David Gooch, the jailer in Lincoln County, has programs designed to curb recidivism as well.
But at the end of the day, will programs intended to reform offenders completely reverse the upward trend in percentage of people locked away? Or do we need to rethink who we put in jail and why? If we were able to update the penal code with an eye on reducing prisoner numbers, what would it look like?